20 October 2008

Paradox

It's everywhere in this mortal life. Things that not only don't match, but seem in direct conflict, yet must co-exist, sometimes essentially to create a harmonious larger whole. We can't learn to prize virtue or happiness without exposure to evil and suffering. Humility creates strength. Increased wisdom brings greater sorrow, as Ecclesiastes says. Forcing people to do something can ultimately bring about the opposite of the original goal. Willing obedience to certain types of laws brings greater personal freedom. There's never a policeman around when you need one, but always when it's you that rolls through the stop sign. Life is filled with paradox.

So is the gospel, e.g. find your life by losing it, knowledge comes only after a trial of faith, and more. Some paradoxes seem intrinsic no matter how much we know. Some are probably the result only of knowledge that is incomplete for the present.

One paradox that I have no hope of resolving is that of how those with SGA fit into the Plan of Salvation. The Bible is sparse in its treatment of this subject (the specifically LDS canon says nothing whatsoever) and persuasive scholarly analysis of its handful of relevant verses suggests there's less actual condemnation of homosexuality even in those verses than most LDS members think. On the other hand, I hear individual LDS leaders condemning homosexuality in terms as vigorous as any I've heard on any subject, yet the Church has addressed the matter in a variety of ways over time; this suggests that our knowledge of it is incomplete.

Paradox #1: LDS theology requires heterosexual marriage in the temple as a prerequisite for the highest celestial rewards. All Church members are encouraged to aspire to that goal which is theoretically available to everyone, because God loves all His children equally and is no respecter of persons. Yet He also seems to have created a significant number of children who could be incapable of reaching that goal or complying with its requirements in this life. Not because they are wicked or faithless, but because the true desire of their heart is for someone of the same gender. Some with this desire do manage to enter and stay successfully in temple marriages, but remain conflicted to one degree or another throughout their lives. Others never even make it that far and are honest with themselves and others that they simply cannot muster up any other desires. If God has created some of His children in this way, as seems more and more apparent over time, does that mean He's created some who are truly incapable of reaching what the Church teaches should be everyone's goal, and that such people should be satisfied with something less?

Paradox #2: “Men are that they might have joy” - Lehi. “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured” - Gordon B. Hinckley. Life is a test, but it's not supposed to be all misery and anguish. Part of the benefit of wading through the crap is that we're supposed to have some compensating happiness along the way, and as our ultimate destination. The Church teaches that the greatest happiness in life is to be found in a heterosexual family with children. Again, promoting this goal is the relentless focus of every Church program and organization. Yet there are many who honestly find that their greatest happiness is with a partner of their own gender, and they feel hollow and incomplete without one. Their situations are indigestible by Mormon theology. No other group of people in the Church is effectively denied the hope of celestial marriage and exaltation because of how God made them. Many such persons raised in the Church ultimately choose to leave because they just can't tolerate the loneliness of single, celibate life in a church that tells them they must smother the sincere desires of their hearts for love and companionship as the price of a vague and undefined hope of “cure” in some future life. Result: some of God's children find the greatest personal happiness and fulfillment by rejecting the teachings of a theology which is supposed to offer the greatest happiness to all.

Paradox #3 – Latter-day Saints who have a testimony of the gospel, who are or have been married, who struggle with SGA, but who do not want to abandon their faith. Such persons, while living outwardly according to the teachings of the Church and their spiritual convictions, are also told by that same Church that part of their nature is repugnant to the rest of what they believe and can be fatal to their eternal prospects. They want the highest reward; they aren't satisfied with temporal happiness alone. Yet something in their nature makes it impossible for them to desire exclusively the kind of relationship and behavior they're taught is a requirement for it. This is perhaps the most challenging situation of all. To have reached the threshold for grabbing the brass ring, yet inside helplessly wanting something else too that could put the brass ring out of reach for good. To already be with her or him, yet unable to stop wanting to look for him or her. Some LDS have said gender orientation is for this mortal life only, but I find no Scriptural basis for that. The paradoxical internal conflict for such persons seems permanent.

I have no answers for any of these. I can only describe what I see. Some advocate celibacy and strict adherence to Church teachings throughout life in order to qualify for whatever as-yet undefined resolution to the conflict and eternal reward that God may choose to give those who didn't or couldn't honestly marry in the temple in mortality. Some find they're just not capable of enduring the isolation and loneliness that such a choice could well impose. Some go further and conclude that God would not want any of His children to endure such a life as the result of a personal characteristic they never chose and couldn't change, when much greater happiness was in fact available to them elsewhere.

I don't think the LDS Church itself, or its leaders, yet know fully what to do about this issue. “God Loveth His Children” represents some progress, but I believe it still rests on incomplete knowledge. If we really believe the 9th Article of Faith's statement that God has yet to reveal “many great and important things” pertaining to His kingdom, then we must concede that we don't know all there is to know about how SGA Saints fit into the Plan of Salvation.

I agree completely with the bishop quoted at Chase's blog who said “I wish the Prophet would make same gender attraction a matter of sincere prayer. I wish he would get on his knees tomorrow and not get up until he received an answer. But that probably is not going to happen. You just need to find a place where you can be happy and still close to God." This matches what I recently read elsewhere of a young gay LDS man who met with President McKay years ago, and when their visit concluded, Pres. McKay said “You have a difficult road ahead, stay close to the Savior.” The young man said that he was an active, faithful member of the Church. “I didn't say the Church,” Pres. McKay replied, “I said the Savior.” It is interesting to read of a prophet suggesting that one can stay close to the Savior without necessarily remaining close to the Church. Sadly, I think this attitude would be more rare in the LDS Church today.

Until one of Pres. McKay's successors stays on his knees long enough to get more understanding than we now have (and I pray all the time for that to happen soon), I have to breathe a deep sigh and conclude we must simply live with the limited knowledge we've now got, and that each person affected by any of these paradoxes will have to seek inspiration for their own choices. I am not persuaded there's a one-size-fits-all answer. I cling to my faith in fundamentals, that God indeed “loveth His children” of all kinds, colors, and desires, that He will reward each of us according to our works and the righteous desires of our hearts, that the Savior will apply the Atonement to each of our lives as liberally as possible (and certainly more liberally than we allow to each other), and that someday all these seeming paradoxes will be explained. May that day come soon.

4 comments:

txcn1987 said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I am having a hard time with this at the moment. What you wrote gives me hope to not just give up on everything yet.

Scott said...

Beautifully worded, and a good summary of the conflicts that gay members of the Church struggle with. I identify most strongly myself with the situation you've outlined as Paradox #3.

One of the things that has bothered me the most as I've gotten to know many, many other gay members of the Church (through internet discussion groups, blogs, etc.) you've summarized as Paradox #2: Men are that they might have joy.

Some people use the idea that we are meant to have joy as a way of justifying their pursuit of happiness in the manner that is natural to them. I don't fault them for it, and in fact I hope that they find the happiness that they're looking for and I'm confident that their situation and circumstances in conjunction with the Atonement will allow them to be judged much less harshly than most members would assume.

Unfortunately, many go too far in the opposite direction. They convince themselves that men are that they might have joy, but that happiness on earth is a fleeting thing and not to be expected or even pursued. I've heard it argued that there is no promise of joy in our mortal existence as the afflicted soul resigns himself to a lifetime of misery in the hope of an eternal reward. I can't believe that God approves of or is pleased with such an attitude.

I'm praying right along with you that some day gay members of the Church will have their own "Official Declaration". I believe in my heart that God has a place for us in His plan and that one day He will reveal it.

Beck said...

This was beautiful!

I cling to that which I know to be true, to my belief in the Savior, and to his love for me as who I am. I can't worry about other concerns that may seem to be a paradox in my life. I can only cling to that which I know...

Bravone said...

Alan,

Thank you for the thoughtful post. It gives me a lot to ponder.